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At the Ryersonian, we find value in print publications. But it’s no secret that despite our fondness for the traditional platform, Canada’s news industry is struggling to keep up with new media consumption.
Looking to assist Canada’s media sector, the federal government announced last Wednesday a $595-million package that includes measures to facilitate fundraising for non-profit news organizations and tax breaks to fund the production of original content.
During a speech in the House of Commons, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the funding, which will be rolled out over five years beginning in 2019, aims to “protect the vital role that independent news media play in our democracy and in our communities.”
The decision to provide federal funding for news organizations has sparked fierce political debate, but the injection of federal funding into Canadian news organizations outweighs the potential pitfalls, particularly if the monetary support and incentives succeed at revitalizing local and national media.
A key component of the government’s funding package is the item that will allow non-profit news organizations to gain charitable status, encouraging philanthropic support by allowing donors to claim a tax credit on their donations.
In a story printed last week, Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley said that as traditional sources of revenue, like print advertising, continue to dwindle, it’s essential to find new funding sources.
Philanthropic funding, in the form of a tax credit, could be the incentive needed to attract new subscribers and increase donations, allowing more money to be put towards newsroom operating costs, employee salaries and production fees.
Whether sustained long-term or for a couple years, donations accrued through the promise of a tax credit could help newsrooms maintain their operations throughout their transition from print-first to digital-first.
During a press briefing last Friday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister told reporters he was worried that journalists’ independence would be compromised if part of their paycheque was covered by the federal government. But federal governments have long supported media organizations, such as the CBC.
The federal government also supports other groups and disciplines without making decisions for or influencing these groups.
Box Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, points to the Canada Council as an example. A Crown corporation, the council supplies arts grants to Canadians, allowing the government to provide financial support from an arm’s distance.
Given the federal government’s history of supporting news media, there’s little to suggest that journalists, who are governed by principles of ethics and impartiality, would be influenced by federal funding.
Finally, we’d be remiss not to mention some of the concerns with the new package, such as the independent panel of news and journalism industry members who will determine eligibility for tax credits. This decision-making power has some critics worried about how the panel will accurately, and consistently, define a journalist.
The package also disregards other initiatives recommended by the House of Commons heritage committee last year, including tax credits for news organizations making digital investments, or imposing taxes on foreign companies selling digital subscriptions in Canada.
Perhaps most significantly though, the plan fails to work towards mediating the primary issue plaguing Canadian print media — plummeting ad revenues.
Regardless, the funding plan is a substantive investment in Canadian media. Not only does this send a message to news organizations that their work is important and valued, but in our current political climate, it sends the same message to those who say they’re losing trust in the media.